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Drinking Habits

Why Does Alcohol Make Me Nauseous?

June 23, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 23, 2023
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 23, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 23, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 23, 2023
8 min read

Many of us have experienced this: we gather at our favorite bar, one round of drinks leads to another, and before we know it we’re feeling queasy. The nausea hits and our night of fun abruptly takes an unpleasant turn, ending with, well, puking after drinking.

Sound familiar? If you’ve ever wondered why alcohol can make us feel sick, read on! Let’s discuss the biology behind alcohol-induced nausea, throwing up after drinking, and hangover nausea cures.

Why Does Alcohol Make You Throw Up?

Let's start with the basics. Our body sees alcohol — chemically known as ethanol — as a toxin. This means that once it’s consumed, our body immediately gets to work trying to get rid of it. Our liver plays the starring role in this detoxification process. It produces an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), which breaks ethanol down into acetaldehyde. This acetaldehyde is then transformed (by an enzyme, ALDH) into a harmless substance called acetate.

The problem arises when we consume alcohol faster than our liver can metabolize it. In such scenarios, acetaldehyde (a very toxic, arcinogenic compound) accumulates in our body, leading to headaches and unwelcome nausea. The result? We end up throwing up after drinking.

Gastrointestinal Acrobatics

But how does this translate into nausea? Well, that's where our gastrointestinal system comes into play. Alcohol irritates the stomach lining, which can cause its muscles to contract. This, in turn, prompts our stomach to empty its contents sooner than it usually would, leading to that dreaded nausea and vomiting.

Moreover, alcohol causes our stomach to produce more acid than usual, which can result in gastritis — a fancy term for inflammation of the stomach lining. This inflammation can cause a variety of GI symptoms, with nausea being one of the main ones.

Sending the SOS

Our brain, the command center of our body, has its own role to play in this nauseating drama. When alcohol enters our bloodstream, it impacts a part of the brain called the area postrema, the "vomiting center." This area is responsible for recognizing toxins in the blood and triggering vomiting as a defense mechanism to expel these toxins (in this case, alcohol).

The Role of Genetics

Ever noticed how some people seem to handle their alcohol better than others? Genetics plays a pivotal role in our body's response to alcohol. Some of us are genetically predisposed to produce less of the enzyme ALDH, which means acetaldehyde isn’t broken down as efficiently. This can lead to an accumulation of acetaldehyde, resulting in more intense symptoms of nausea after drinking.

The Dreaded Day-After Effect

Last but not least, let’s talk about hangovers. When we consume alcohol, our body prioritizes getting rid of it, pushing aside other important processes. One of the most important processes neglected by our liver while drinking is the production of glucose. This pause can cause our blood sugar levels to drop, resulting in feelings of fatigue, weakness, and — yes — nausea.

Hangover Nausea Cures

To help ease the nausea that often follows a night of drinking, try these tips:

  • Hydrate. This is the most important and effective way to reduce alcohol-induced nausea. Alcohol causes dehydration and depletes the body of electrolytes, so it’s important to replenish what has been lost.
  • Gentle movement. You might not feel like exercising — and that’s perfectly fine. But some gentle movement can work wonders, especially if it’s outdoors!
  • Ginger tea. Many people swear by ginger as a time-tested hangover cure, since it’s known to ease stomach discomfort. Ginger ale is high in sugar, which can upset the stomach, and while carbonation may help some of us, others will find it worsens nausea. Ginger tea is hydrating and easier to handle.

Steps Toward a Healthier Relationship With Alcohol

Understanding the science of alcohol-induced nausea can be a great motivator for making more mindful decisions about our drinking habits. Here are some practical steps you can take to ensure a healthier relationship with alcohol:

  • Pace yourself. Try not to consume alcohol faster than your body can metabolize it. Remember, our liver can only process about one standard drink per hour.
  • Stay hydrated. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it can dehydrate us by stimulating urine production. Staying hydrated can help counteract some of the negative effects of alcohol. Consider alternating alcoholic drinks with glasses of water or another non-alcoholic beverage.
  • Eat before you drink. Having a meal before drinking can slow down the absorption of alcohol, providing a buffer for your stomach lining and giving your liver more time to do its job.
  • Listen to your body. Everyone's body responds differently to alcohol. If you’re feeling nauseous, it's a clear sign from your body that you should slow down.
  • Consider genetic testing. If you’re particularly susceptible to nausea after drinking, a genetic test could provide insights into whether you’re genetically predisposed to alcohol intolerance.

Navigating the Alcohol Maze

Alcohol’s effects on our body differ from person to person thanks to the complex blend of biochemistry, genetics, and personal tolerance. Thankfully, understanding individual factors influencing why alcohol makes us nauseous can open the door to more mindful drinking. By taking practical steps towards moderation, we can enjoy our night out without the dreaded nausea as a next-day reminder. 

Reclaim Your Well-Being With Reframe

Ready to make nausea-free nights your new normal? The Reframe app is here to help! While it's not a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), our app is packed with research-driven insights to guide you every step of the way. We’ve been helping millions of people across the globe embrace a less alcohol-centered life, and we're certain that we can do the same for you!

The Reframe app comes loaded with knowledge and practical skills to help you not just get by, but actually thrive as you dial back on the drinks. Each day, we offer you a taste of the science behind alcohol use via our research-based readings. Plus, our in-app Toolkit is a treasure chest of resources and activities to help you overcome each and every hurdle.

And guess what? You're not alone! Meet Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom meetings. Share your journey with folks from all over the world who totally get what you're going through. Need a little extra guidance? You can also connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for a more personalized touch.

We're always on the lookout for ways to make your journey easier and more engaging. Recently, we've introduced Melody, our new in-app chatbot powered by the best AI tech around, to offer you more support. And the fun doesn't stop there! Each month, we roll out exciting challenges like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. Whether you participate as a team or prefer going solo, they provide great opportunities to challenge yourself.

Ready for more good news? The Reframe app is free for the first 7 days, so you really have nothing to lose by giving it a go. Are you ready to seize control and explore life with less (or no) alcohol? If so, just hit that download button!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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